When Romero was at his back he rode for a mile or two through a region of tiny scattered farms and neglected garden patches, after which he came out into the mesquite. For all the signs he saw, he might then have been in the heart of a foreign country. Mexico had swallowed him.
As the afternoon heat subsided, Montrosa let herself out into a freer gait and began to cover the distance rapidly, heading due west through a land of cactus and dagger, of thorn and barb and bramble.
The roads were unfenced, the meadows desolate; the huts were frequently untenanted. Ahead the sky burned splendidly, and the sunset grew more brilliant, more dazzling, until it glorified the whole mean, thirsty, cruel countryside.
Dave’s eyes were set upon that riot of blazing colors, but for the time it failed to thrill him. In that welter of changing hues and tints he saw only red. Red! That was the color of blood; it stood for passion, lust, violence; and it was a fitting badge of color for this land of revolutions and alarms. At first he saw little else—except the hint of black despair to follow. But there was gold in the sunset, too—the yellow gold of ransom! That was Mexico—red and yellow, blood and gold, lust and license. Once the rider’s fancy began to work in this fashion, it would not rest, and as the sunset grew in splendor he found in it richer meanings. Red was the color of a woman’s lips—yes, and a woman’s hair. The deepening blue of the high sky overhead was the hue of a certain woman’s eyes. A warm, soft breeze out of the west beat into his face, and he remembered how warm and soft Alaire’s breath had been upon his cheek.
The woman of his desires was yonder, where those colors warred, and she was mantled in red and gold and purple for his coming. The thought aroused him; the sense of his unworthiness vanished, the blight fell from him; he felt only a throbbing eagerness to see her and to take her in his arms once more before the end.
With his head high and his face agleam, he rode into the west, into the heart of the sunset.
What’s this I hear about war?” Dolores inquired of her mistress, a few days after their arrival at La Feria. “They tell me that Mexico is invaded and that the American soldiers have already killed more than a thousand women and children.”
“Who tells you this?” Alaire asked.
“The men—everybody,” Dolores waved a hand in the direction of the other ranch buildings. “Our people are buzzing like bees with the news, and, of course, no one cares to work when the Americans are coming.”